WASHINGTON — Fans of contemporary art have something to celebrate in April.
The Washington Project for the Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and supporting local artists, kicks off WPA Auction Week on Thursday, March 31, and ends it with the WPA auction on April 9. In between, the organization offers talks and exhibits open to the public.
The WPA has been around for 40 years, and according to Jeremy Flick, the membership director, nearly every major visual artist in the district between 1975 and present day has had some type of connection to the organization.
To support the program and the artists it benefits, the WPA has an annual auction gala that showcases the work of current WPA members. It’s the best way to see the most local art in one place.
This year, nearly 150 pieces of art from 116 artists will be on display from March 31 to April 9. Each piece in the showcase was selected by a local independent or museum curator.
Sheldon Scott, one of the artists with artwork in the showcase, says the auction gala was instrumental in giving his work a push forward.
“For me, as an emerging artist, it was a very important time in my career. It was an opportunity to show a body of work as someone who was unrepresented at the time,” Scott says.
“The WPA still does what it was designed to do, which is to create opportunities where opportunities don’t exist, and to broaden the idea that D.C. has artists who produce work of great importance.”
The founder of the WPA, Alice Denney, made it her mission to create an audience for the emerging artists in the city. It’s still a major part of the organization’s purpose.
Eames Armstrong, whose piece “Pink Bathroom” is in the auction, says that the D.C. art community is bigger than people realize. The WPA, through the wide range of events and programming, manages to bring people together. And that, she says, is essential.
“It’s so important for catalyzing the community, connecting artists with other artists,” she says. “That leads to different collaborations and projects and to a richer community across the city.”
Bringing artists together isn’t new to the WPA, or to Alice Denney. Before she founded the WPA, Denney famously managed to get art-world celebrities Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Olga Adorno all in the same room at a party for the opening exhibit at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art. While the art gallery didn’t last long, the WPA is still carrying the torch, 40 years later.
To Patrick McDonough, an artist in the organization, the WPA is an institution, but it’s constantly adapting to the changing scene, allowing it to stay relevant.
“The way that I see the WPA is as this historically-rooted organization in the cultural fabric of D.C. and also flexible enough to be really progressive, to be working with emerging artists on rebellious projects, and to continue the history of the projects of its founder,” he says.